26 SES 08 A, Leadership and School Development in Diverse, Underperforming Contexts: Evidence-based policies, values and practices in the U.S., Sweden, Germany and Australia
In many nation states, including Australia, Sweden, Germany, and the U.S., we can observe policy trends toward evidence-based school reforms. The logic is driven by a theory of utility, meaning that if educators utilize more practices grounded in strong evidence about “what works” and reduce the use of practices that do not work, schools will improve. In the U.S., for example, if a reform “works”, it produces improvements in student outcomes on standardized tests with the strength of ‘evidence’ determined by experiments or randomized controlled trials like those used in the medical profession.
A number of influential scholars (e.g. Hattie, 2008; Slavin, 2008; Eisenhart, 2005; Schneider, et al., 2007) have argued persuasively for the use of such evidence to inform educational practice. Slavin (2008), for instance, advocates for the linkage between research and practice similar to the medical field. Using his Success for All school reform model as an example, Slavin argues for the importance of studies that seek to make causal conclusions that include correlational and descriptive dimensions. Success for All (Slavin & Madden, 2001) is one of the reforms featured in What Works Clearing House with strong evidence of effectiveness, and, thus, one of the innovations that may be selected for funding by scholars and educators seeking grant funding for school improvements. Biesta (2010), however, argue that such evidence-based reform policies have a democratic deficit, emphasizing how a particular use of evidence threatens to replace professional judgment and the wider democratic deliberation about the aims and ends and the conduct of education. In other words, while evidence-based interventions provide resources for educational decision-making about reforms that may improve student outcomes, they do not explicitly consider or reflect a language of education with its traditional humanistic values (e.g. Dewey, 1887/2013; 1916).
As a result of policy pressures on schools in many nation states, many universities and other educational organizations have proposed an array of evidence-based school development models or projects aimed at continuous improvement. At the same time, some projects including those featured in this session, also consider the use of evidence in democratic deliberations amidst demographic changes due to population migrations, refugees, and/or internal demographic shifts. The first paper describes national and state level evidence-based policies and school improvement policies that contributed to the development of school development projects from Arizona and South Carolina, two states experiencing changing demographics. The second paper describes national Australian school improvement polices and demographic changes and two school improvement programs that informed a framework for professional learning communities aimed at improved student outcomes. In the third paper, authors explore the challenges and positive changes from a school turnaround project in ten schools in difficult circumstances located in a large city in Germany over a five year period. The fourth paper from Sweden draws on a large data set from a study of 80 school districts and 100 school projects developed in relation to a Swedish Government initiative for improving low preforming schools called ‘Co-operation for better schools’. The paper discusses challenges on how practice, theory and research can be combined for ethical school improvement processes.
The discussant will provide comments on the papers and then open for a cross-national dialogue about evidence-based policy trends and school improvement initiatives.
Biesta, G.J.J. (2010). Why ‘What Works’ still won’t work: From evidence-based education to value-based education. Studies in philosophy and education, 29(491–503). Dewey, J. (1887/2013). My pedagogic creed. In Curriculum Studies Reader E2 (pp. 29-35). Routledge. Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: The Free Press. Eisenhart, M. (2005). Hammers and saws for the improvement of educational research. Educational Theory, 55(3), 245-261. Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge. Schneider, B., Carnoy, M., Kilpatrick, J., Schmidt, W. H., & Shavelson, R. J. (2007). Estimating causal effects using experimental and observational design. American Educational & Research Association. Slavin, R. E. (2008). Perspectives on evidence-based research in education—what works? Issues in synthesizing educational program evaluations. Educational researcher, 37(1), 5-14. Slavin, R. E., & Madden, N. A. (Eds.). (2001). Success for all: Research and reform in elementary education. Routledge.
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